Posted in | Ecology | Ecosystems

Study Reveals Community Diversity Influences Plant’s Response to Carbon Dioxide Levels

UBC ecologist Elizabeth Kleynhans in the field. (Credit: UBC Science)

A recent study published in Nature Communications has stated that plants that have reached a stage of evolution wherein they can withstand high levels of carbon dioxide do not grow effectively when they are moved to other plant community with different environmental conditions.

In an effort to save certain species, there has been an interest in the movement of plants or animals to more climatically suitable habitats. Our research indicates how one species adapts in one community may not transfer to other communities.

Elizabeth Kleynhans, Ecologist, University of British Columbia

The scientists studied Kentucky bluegrasses that had been exposed to high levels of carbon dioxide, to determine the effects of community diversity on evolution of plants.

The plants are a part of a long-term climate change experiment, conducted in Minnesota, and had 14 years of exposure to elevated levels of carbon dioxide in plots with low or high species diversity.

Seeds of these bluegrasses were then taken to Vancouver. The offspring of these plants were planted in fields with a plant diversity similar to what they had experienced when they had evolved to elevated levels of carbon dioxide or in plots with different plant diversity.

Depending on whether they were surrounded by the same or diverse species of plants, the reaction of the grasses to the carbon dioxide differed.

If plants evolved to elevated carbon dioxide in one neighborhood, then experienced elevated carbon dioxide in a different neighborhood, the benefits disappeared. This result was very surprising to us.

Mark Vellend, Biologist, Université de Sherbrooke

The scientists state that further studies could look at exposing different species of plants to other environmental changes including increased temperature.

We might not be able to predict how plants are going to respond to climate change by looking at physical factors like carbon dioxide or temperature alone. We also need to account for who else a species is living with because interactions between species influence evolution as well.

Elizabeth Kleynhans, Ecologist, University of British Columbia

The Zoology department and Biodiversity Research Center, University of British Columbia, LTER-NSF and NSERC grants have supported the endeavor.

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